Should I Be Worried I Have a Sleep Disorder?
Some sleep disorders are actually fairly common. They all have one thing in common: they disrupt healthy sleep.
Chronic sleep disruptions have the uncanny effect of making you the “less performing” version of you. Sometimes, chronic sleep disruption can even make you feel and behave like a completely different person.
If you are reading this, you might be wondering if you have a sleep disorder or problem. Here are causes and symptoms of the most common sleep disorders.
Overview of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Sleep apnea occurs when your upper airway becomes blocked while sleeping. There are two primary types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (most common): physical blockage of airway, such as when your throat muscles relax and close your airway
- Central sleep apnea: brain causes respiration to stop
There is also a rare form of sleep apnea called complex sleep apnea, which includes causes of both central and obstructive sleep apnea.
Some of the most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea are:
- Loud snoring
- Restless sleep
- Morning headaches
- Severe daytime sleepiness
- Chronic irritability
Sleep apnea is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
Overview of Insomnia
Insomnia is a condition where you chronically feel as if you are not getting enough sleep. People in Alaska may be particularly prone to this because of the extreme light/darkness condition This feeling usually arises because of chronically feeling like:
- You have severe difficulty falling asleep
- You have lots of trouble staying asleep
- You wake up much earlier than you want
Insomnia can be detrimental in minor cases, to debilitating in severe cases. In addition to the above symptoms, insomnia may also cause:
- General performance loss in many important areas of life (work, relationships, etc.)
- Daytime tiredness and fogginess
- Anxiety and depression
- Mood troubles
In many cases, there are palpable causes for insomnia, such as stress, medications, and depression/anxiety.
Overview of Circadian Rhythm Disorders
Your circadian rhythm is your biological sleep clock. This biological sleep clock is a part of your brain called the superchiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus, and sits right behind the nerves of your eyes.
Circadian rhythm disorders are often in response to your external factors:
- Extreme light and darkness (i.e. Alaska)
- Jet lag
- Shift work
- An circadian rhythm that is “non-standard” – i.e. if you natural schedule is sleeping from 4am-11am, but your work schedule begins at 7am
Symptoms of circadian rhythm are fairly straightforward: when you want or need to sleep is when you can’t sleep.
Overview of Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome is when you have discomfort in your legs and feet at night. The primary symptoms of this include the following, which occur before or during sleep:
- Excessive leg movements
- Rhythmic leg movements
- Cyclic leg movements
These leg movements provide temporary relief of discomfort.
The reason restless leg syndrome is troublesome is because it can delay sleep or cause disruptive sleep.
Overview of Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy is a brain disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness. Though many of us know narcolepsy as something that causes sudden “sleep attacks,” the reality is that most people with narcolepsy don’t suffer from such attacks.
In addition to chronic sleepiness – as if you never can get enough sleep – other symptoms include:
- Sleep paralysis
- Cataplexy (sudden loss of muscle tone)
- Diminished alertness
Narcolepsy is fairly rare, with fewer than 20,000 cases per year.